Don’t look now, but if we learned anything at UFC Fight Night 30, it’s that one of the UFC’s most exciting divisions is middleweight.
To those who’ve been watching the sport for more than a few years, this sounds almost comical. To those who’ve been watching even longer, it could almost be passed off as a pathetic attempting at trolling.
And yet, it’s true. There are many ways to illustrate just how lackluster middleweight has historically been, but perhaps the best reminder was the reign of Anderson Silva when he was forced to defend his UFC middleweight title against Patrick Cote, Thales Leites and Demian Maia. Those are all accomplished fighters, but two of them don’t even compete in that weight class anymore. The other was cut from the UFC and only recently returned after a mostly successful stint in regional MMA.
Silva’s resume is impeccable, but his peers can barely hang onto employment? That’s hardly the mark of talent-rich division.
And when he wasn’t defending his title against complete non-challengers, Silva was moonlighting as a light heavyweight. There aren’t many fighters who force the UFC to give them challenges in different weight classes because the one they’re competing in is abysmally thin enough to force boredom.
Remember Silva not doing anything in title fights because he couldn’t be bothered to fight competitors that far below his level? That is the scarlet letter middleweight has been carrying around.
Yes, Silva is arguably the greatest fighter of all time. He’s going to make most fighters look bad. Even very good ones. But it’s one thing for them to look bad at Silva’s hand and it’s quite another for them to demonstrate the rigors of simply maintaining position in the weight class is too tall an order to handle.
That’s all behind us now, however. Now we have a middleweight division with a new champion (Chris Weidman). We have a man some consider the best fighter ever trying to reclaim a title he lost when he was brutally knocked out. If nothing else, that creates intrigue at the top of the division.
We have more than that, though. Today, there’s depth in this space. We have an infusion of talent from Strikeforce (Luke Rockhold, Ronaldo Souza and Gegard Mousasi). We have a surging veteran (Vitor Belfort). We also have a former UFC light heavyweight champion dropping down to stake a new claim in Lyoto Machida.
The reality is middleweight isn’t just thin in the UFC. It’s thin in all of MMA, much as lightweight isn’t just strong in the UFC, but other organizations as well. My point is not that these institutional or existential reasons for middleweight not being very good are all of a sudden changed. But right now in this division, there’s a reason to enjoy the sudden intrigue that’s now there. Maybe the circumstances that have created this are ephemeral, but they’re here now. Might as well enjoy them before things change.
One wonders how much Silva being so dominant made things so lackluster. Something similar is happening at light heavyweight with Jon Jones dominating everyone he fights. Yet, Alexander Gustafsson happened and that all changed. Daniel Cormier is also making his way down, which adds to that narrative. Just as things were getting boring, now there’s a reason to pay attention.
Perhaps the best thing for any division, be it middle or flyweight, is to have things shaken up when they get stale. Lucky for us, that’s exactly what we’re getting at middleweight right now. With new blood at the top, middle and bottom and a rearrangement of the division’s hierarchy, all of a sudden there’s hope.
The middleweight division is dead. Long live the middleweight division.
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